Let's Talk About Mental Health

Have you noticed those billboards of Clara Hughes all over the city recently and wondered what they are about?  On February 9, 2011, Bell will contribute 5¢ for every long distance call and text message its customers make to support mental health related programs across the country.  If you go to Bell’s Let’s Talk website, you will see a video where Clara Hughes talks about the personal struggles that she has fought to overcome depression.

The reality is that 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime.  In essence, that means that all of us, either directly or through family and friends will be impacted by mental illness.  Unfortunately, many people who find themselves faced with a mental health issue do not access the help that they need.  The impact of people not receiving the support they need can be devastating. 

In Alberta, more people die by suicide than motor vehicle accidents, making suicide the leading cause of preventable death in Alberta.  And while we constantly see prevention campaigns around safe driving, rarely do we hear about mental health.  Clearly, there is a stigma that exists around mental health that isn’t present for other health issues such as diabetes or cancer.

As someone who has dealt with a family member with mental health issues, I know how overwhelming it can feel to have someone you love dealing with these issues.  No matter how much you know about mental health or suicide prevention, everything is different when you are concerned about the well-being of someone you love.

Thankfully, there is help out there. United Way supports a number of agencies who provide excellent support and education around mental health issues:

  • The Canadian Mental Health Association provides education about mental health and illness, and advocates for better conditions in the community to help people build strong supports for community life.

  • The Support Network operates a 24-hour Distress Line that is staffed by trained volunteers who can provide support and guidance to individuals dealing with mental health issues.  They can be reached at 780-482-HELP (4357).

  • Several agencies, including The Family Centre, Jewish Family Services and The Support Network offer subsidized counselling programs.

  • People unsure of where to access help can also call 2-1-1 to receive information about programs and services in the Edmonton area.

There is no reason for people dealing with mental health issues to suffer in silence.  The sooner that one can access support, the better.  If you are concerned about someone in your life, don’t be afraid to reach out.  Let them know that you care.  We all have a role to play in removing the stigma that surrounds mental illness.  Let’s start today.

Tim Osborne is the Director, Community Building and Investment for United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.